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The potential and challenges of rum production in Colombia

Colombia has a growing reputation for producing high quality rums, with a number of producers creating unique and flavourful spirits.

In 2019, 34 million litres of rum and 23 million litres of Aguardiente were consumed in Colombia with an estimated growth rate of 25% over the next 5 years. This represents an enormous potential for the industry. Despite these numbers, the country has not produced rum since the end of the first decade of the year 2000, that is, for more than 10 years now[1]. This statement is surprising: how can a country that produces more sugar cane than any other in the Caribbean (and is the 12th largest producer of sugarcane in the world!) not produce rum?

The reasons are multiple. According to Julio Molano[2] (owner of Licores Artesanales), producing rum in Colombia is too expensive, and it is much easier to import rum produced by neighbouring countries. The second reason is that Colombia has a monopoly on the production of distilled spirits (above 20% alcohol by volume), which severely limits (or even makes it impossible) private production and free market competition.

Licores Artesanales is the only independent company in Colombia that, despite enormous difficulties in obtaining permits for production and sales, produces artisanal aguardiente. The company currently produces aguardiente, but will most likely also produce rum soon (or perhaps already does). But how do you obtain permission from the government? The first step requires a specific permit from INVIMA (the Colombian FDA). Subsequently, a permit must be requested from the department where the distillate is to be produced. Then, a sales permit must be obtained in the departments where sales are desired. Colombia has 33 departments (including Bogotá D.C.), and permits must be requested from each of them. As you can imagine, this is not an optimal situation and requires a lot of work, patience, and money.

So, how do other producers produce rum?

The answer is pretty simple: by importing rum from other countries. Unfortunately, the system in Colombia does not incentivize local production at all, and even if one wants to, few entrepreneurs have the patience (and money) to navigate through the Colombian bureaucracy. Many entrepreneurs have realized that rum is becoming an increasingly popular product and will probably surpass worldwide Vodka production. Furthermore, the “Colombia” product as a tourist destination is growing every year, and more and more people are visiting the country to see its beauty. So what is the easiest way for an entrepreneur to create their own rum? By importing it from neighbouring countries and then aging and bottling it in Colombia. And most producers choose to export their products directly due to the difficult regulations in Colombia.

It is truly a shame that the government does not allow for the free production and commercialization of a product that possesses enormous potential: as mentioned above, Colombia produces an enormous amount of high-quality sugarcane, available for harvest practically all year round.

I hope that the situation can change in the coming years. It would be really exciting to see 100% Colombian products appear on the market. As with Viche: but I will discuss this in another article.



[2] Same reference as 1

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